The masterful Wu-Tang Clan reunited with its celebratory sixth album last week, A Better Tomorrow. While the insufferable loss of member Ol’ Dirty Bastard (RIP ODB) a decade ago still haunts the New York rap crew, the entourage reemerges in full formation. Adding to the mix, Cappadonna has recently been coronated as an official member of the Clan by the founder, RZA. Released 20 years after the Clan’s treasured Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), A Better Tomorrow sadly featured a few of the crew’s weakest tracks to date. The group struggles to reclaim its throne as the kings of hip-hop, navigating a changing genre while attempting to rebuild its sound.
A Better Tomorrow appropriately and powerfully begins with RZA’s admission that “The Shaolin and the Wu-Tang is very dangerous.” In remembrance of his loss, the Wu greatly exalts and honors Ol’ Dirty Bastard throughout the album and in its general speech. These allusions, paired with eerie piano and organ, make for a thrilling intro, especially for the biggest of Wu-Tang fans. A versatility in complexion and lyrical power amongst the rappers, however, paired with some almost uninspired sounding beats make for an album that dips far below Wu standards.
The hook of one of the more celebrated tracks on the album Ruckus in B Minor simply repeats, “Still number one / Still number one / Still number one, one, one.” GZA bites back a few verses later with, “Then this fascinating picture has emerged from surface/ A wonder of the young world with an urgent purpose/ A wild fire engulfing every home/ It’s history chiseled and carved in every stone.” It is an imbalance like this—between repetitive themes and styles—that contrasts with ingenious lyrical ballads and a couple stellar beats. Sadly for one of my favorites, the GZA, I noticed a particle rhyme parameter and progression in many of his songs that takes away from the style’s power.
What is most painful about A Better Tomorrow are the album’s big successes like its titular, “A Better Tomorrow” or “Crushed Egos.” Specifically, “A Better Tomorrow” delivers some of the best verses and arguably the sickest, funkiest, and most Wu beat on the album. Method Man opens with, “But, but my ambition won’t let me live in this poor condition / That doesn’t care about color, creed, or your religion / Priests, politicians gotta listen to opposition / From my position, we still ain’t got a pot to piss in.” There is a cry for the livelihood of those living in the ghettos of New York and for the black community as a whole, found in the Wu’s strongest pieces like “Can It Be All So Simple” and “Tearz.” While a few songs on the album approach similar themes, “A Better Tomorrow” best shows the group’s passion. The string instrumental displays the tender care the RZA works under with all of his beats.
For what could be an epic comeback to the rap scene, A Better Tomorrow disappoints in trying to prove Wu’s potential. Although the group still has a strong following, the Wu will need to better approach its revivals as a means to grow audience. A few notable tracks like, “A Better Tomorrow,” “Preacher’s Daughter,” and “Crushed Egos” remind listeners of the talent that the Wu-Tang has shown in the past.
The majority of the album, however, is characterized by similarly plagued qualities of the Clan’s last album, 8 Diagrams: repetitiveness. With undying certainty, Wu-Tang assumed that what work in the past will still work now. It was wrong.
Featured Image Courtesy of AllMusic